Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.
Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.
So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.
It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.
Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….
My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!
We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…
For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.
The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.
After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.
He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.
Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.
It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.
Hubby and I went to college WAY out in west Texas. And no, I don’t mean that we went to Texas Tech. Lubbock is NOT west Texas.
Lubbock is obviously in NORTH Texas. Alpine/Big Bend National Park is obviously WEST Texas. Now, I probably didn’t draw these regions out exactly the way they are in real life (there are true divisions in this state), but some people consider San Antonio as part of Central Texas, and others count it as part of South Texas. So I guess I should have really put that as a dotted line instead.
Anyway, like I was saying Hubby and I went to college in West Texas, at Sul Ross State University. We loved living in that area, but it’s hard to find good jobs there because it’s so isolated and mostly ranch land surrounding it, so we ended up getting jobs back in southeast Texas (a sub-region dividing East Texas because sometimes East Texas is really just an extension of Louisiana). Every once in a while we like to go back to Alpine for vacation, especially because we still have a lot of friends in the area, and we love Big Bend National Park. Our plan was to go to Alpine for Art Walk. It’s an annual celebration that was started while we were living there. The art galleries stay open late, there is live music on the street, and every year it gets bigger and better.
This year, even Ray Wylie Hubbard was playing!
I travel a lot for work (the Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention business) so I get quite a few frequent flyer miles that we love to cash in for free trips, so we used my frequent flyer miles to buy two tickets to Midland, three hours north of Alpine, but still considered West Texas (Texas Geography Lesson #2). This was our plan:
1. Fly into Midland and drive to Alpine – get into town just in time for a late dinner with friends and hit the bar.
2. Get up CRAZY early and head down to Big Bend National Park.
3. Hike the South Rim Trail, which I think is like 12 miles.
4. Get off the mountain just at the right time to get sunset photos of the Sierra del Carmen mountains, and head back to Alpine (more than a 1 hour drive).
5. Enjoy Art Walk, see all of the friends that we still have in Alpine, go to every bar, and see the artwork of a friend in one of the galleries.
6. Spend the day buying Christmas presents for our friends’ kids, and send them home with said friends.
7. Enjoy a leisurely drive back to Midland, and get on our evening flight back home.
8. Be home for a late dinner.
As the date of our trip got closer and closer, the weather forecast was getting grim. 30 degrees F as the high. Mixed sleet and snow. But we already had the trip planned, and we were determined to go. Hiking in the cold isn’t that bad, afterall. We got free drinks on the airplane because the flight attendant never came back to pick up our drink coupons that I love getting in the mail, and it was off to a pretty good start!
However, the temperature didn’t get above 27 degrees the entire time. We were able to get a free upgrade for our rental car, and got a Nissan Frontier truck. We were excited about this because we would have a high clearance vehicle for Big Bend, and if the roads were snowy, that would be helpful too. We got out to our truck and it was coated in ice. We had to set there for 30 minutes, letting it defrost so we could see through the windshield and windows.
On the 3 hour drive from Midland to Alpine, we were worried about frozen bridges the entire time. We finally crawled into town at 9 pm, and got a late dinner from Cow Dog, the best hotdogs you can find. Anywhere. Everything was covered in ice. We had to eat standing up because all of the outdoor seating was frozen.
We hit a couple bars, ran into old friends, and stayed out until about 2am. It started snowing and the roads were icing over. We weren’t real sure we were going to make it out to Big Bend after all. That morning we woke up and everything was coated in a thick layer of ice. There would be no traveling to the park today. For those of you who have never been to Big Bend National Park, let me explain (Texas Geography Lesson #3).
It is isolated.
If something goes wrong while you are down there, it could be a while before someone comes by. You rarely have a cell phone signal. You rarely even have a radio signal. And weather in the desert can change in an instant. The last thing we wanted to do was get stuck down in the park because they closed the roads, or worse – get stuck because there was an ice storm and we ran off the road into a canyon that three cars a day drive past.
This is what the main road to the Chisos Mountain Basin looked like on Monday, two days after we had planned on going. If we had gotten into the park to begin with, we probably would have been stuck there until Tuesday!
So instead of risking death, or at the very least a miserable day in the cold, wind, and snow, we stayed in Alpine. We got discounted breakfast at the restaurant that is in the same parking lot as our hotel, and that place is the epitome of a small town diner. It’s called Penny’s, and it looks like it’s made out of an Airstream trailer. Food there is usually only consumed at 2 am when suddenly you are in the mood for French toast and gravy, but it was discounted and we didn’t have to drive to it, so that’s where we ate.
Now if you are looking for good service, try somewhere else in town. But if you are looking to people watch, this is the best seat around. The short-order cook makes the food right in front of you so you can watch him almost burn up the kitchen with a grease fire or try to figure out why the fryer isn’t working. You can also listen to all of the employees complain about other employees calling in “sick” or try to figure out if Hubby has been given all of his food (he hadn’t) while they make pancakes for an order that doesn’t exist. It’s entertaining at least.
Afterwards we hit the town and enjoyed the coffee shop, Plaine while we waited for our friends to meet us for lunch (this trip ended up revolving around food and bars, but we were ok with that).
I was FINALLY able to buy a Cow Dog t-shirt and the Cow Dog himself, Alan, recognized Hubby and me from long, long ago and we were able to chat him up a bit about moving away from Alpine. He’s a great guy, and I’m always happy to give him my business (especially if I get a Cow Dog out of it). I really appreciated how he repurposed his hot dog bun bags for t-shirt bags. Reduce, reuse, recycle afterall!
We had heard about Big Bend Brewing Company after we moved away, and I had never had a chance to try it until this trip. I was very excited, because Alpine had once, long, long ago had a German microbrewery called Edelweiss (pronounced A-Dell-Vice for you non-German speakers) and it was the best beer we had ever had. It was actually the reason Hubby and I became craft brew snobs. Long story short, Edelweiss is no more, but you can always have a chat with the man that started it all, Harry Moise, who now owns, operates, and hangs out at Harry’s Tinaja in Alpine. Go have a drink with him, but remember, it’s cash only.
And the guy that started BBBCo was actually a brewmaster in Austin, Texas and moved to Marfa. I’m just glad he opened the brewery in Alpine instead of Marfa, but if you aren’t from that area, you won’t understand 😉
There was an open house at the brewery with free beer, but we had just eaten lunch and it was absolutely freezing inside the brewery (it’s just an open warehouse) so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went back to the hotel to take showers and take a nap, only to find that our hotel had lost power because of the ice. We napped for a while and woke up colder than when we had fallen asleep, and then we hit the town again for the actual Art Walk. It wasn’t that big of a turn out this year because of the weather, but it was still fun, and we still got to run into a bunch of old friends.
Although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, we still had a great time. It made me miss seeing the snow every year, but it also made Hubby remember how much he hates the snow 🙂 And, because we didn’t get to hit Big Bend National Park, it just made us want to plan another trip out there so we can see the beautiful desert and mountains that we miss so much. Because (Texas Geography Lesson #4) the desert gets in your blood.
These are my silly travel stories where I use humor and sarcasm to explain other cultures and world events. I use this forum to be a voice for the Little Guy. Little Guys have tiny, squeaky voices and no one wants to hear them anyway.